In what may very well be a first case of its kind in the Middle East to involve a corporate chain, Mark Makhoul, a Lebanese living in Kuwait who runs a popular blog is being sued for posting a review of a restaurant.
Click on pic to read the court order
Mark and his wife Nat are expats based in Kuwait and vented their disappointment on their blog after a meal at the newly-launched Benihana outlet at the Avenues. Mark then wrote on the blog under ‘My Benihana Experience’:
"The service wasn’t too bad for a restaurant that’s just been open for a few days and the staff were really friendly...The problem with my experience last night though was with the food, it was disappointing to say the least."
Mark then explained in rich details the experience, ranging from the "good" negimaki to the "ordinary" Orange Blossom to the "bad" Hibachi chicken.
Mark reported that he shot two videos of the chef preparing the meal, saying that Benihana are known for the live shows they perform when preparing dishes.
He then concluded: "Would I go back to Benihana? No I wouldn’t. Their sashimi and makis are pretty cheap (KD1.5 for 5 pieces of Salmon sashimi for example) but there are two other Japanese restaurants at the Avenues, Wasabi and Maki, and I would prefer either one of those to Benihana."
Yesterday Mark got served with a court order informing him that Benihana is suing him because of his post.
Tweeters and bloggers from the UAE have come out in string support of Mark and Nat, with Mark’s blog receiving over 50 pages of responses.
Many are concerned that should the bloggers lose the court case it will set a precedent to hamper future blogging in the Middle East.
Mark says he is currently getting legal advice from a lawyer Khaled Al Shamali "who is actually a fan of my blog (that’s important)" and he will be fighting this case in court.
He says on the blog, “Originally my lawyer told me not to discuss this case with anyone but I feel it is important to share this with everyone since it doesn’t just affect me but the whole blogging community be it in Kuwait, UAE or anywhere else in the region. So after talking to my lawyer again, he’s now given me the green light to be transparent and open with everyone regarding this case.”
He adds, “I’ve personally been threatened with lawsuits a number of times before, I know another popular blog recently got threatened with a lawsuit from a restaurant as well and I am sure there must be other bloggers who at one point in time have also been threatened. If blogs were recognised like newspapers or magazines we would all be protected from lawsuits like this but at the moment we aren’t. I find this unfair and if I end up losing this case what will it mean to all the other bloggers? Should bloggers be afraid to say anything negative about a company? Should all our posts just be happy happy joy?”
He also requests people on his blog not to hassle Benihana staff or outlets.
An extract from the court order served on Mark, also posted on the site, reads, “The person is [sic] question has publicly insulted a restaurant through a website that is read by tens of thousands of people. The person hasn’t stopped at reviewing or giving his personal point of view, specially that the facts mentioned in his article are faulty and far from true, since if they were, the restaurant would have been inspected, closed and fined.
"And so, we order the payment of KD5001 as a compensation for the damages caused to the restaurant management and for encouraging large number of customers not to try the restaurant by insulting, doubting the quality and food served by Benihana and using expressions that disgust people from trying the food."
The case is due in court on March 8.